Celtic left to rue defensive slips in Kazakhstan
Scottish champions face battle to make Champions League group stages
Celtic manager Neil Lennon saw his side lose 2-0 in Astana. Photograph: Chris Clark/PA
Shakhter Karagandy 2 Celtic 0: Celtic have left themselves with it all to do to reach the Champions League after a surprise defeat to Kazakhstan champions Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of their play-off at the Astana Arena.
The Scottish champions started the game well but found themselves behind in the 12th minute when Andrei Finonchenko took advantage of some slack defending to score from close range.
Kris Commons rattled the bar with a thunderous drive in the 19th minute with the ball bouncing down on to the line but Neil Lennon’s side struggled at times with the route-one approach taken by a home side who looked limited in other aspects of their game.
The visitors had the best of things again in the second half with James Forrest missing a chance from six yards but in the 77th minute powerful striker Sergei Khizhnichenko headed in a second to leave the shell-shocked Hoops having to make amends in next week’s second leg in Glasgow.
Lennon, though, will be puzzled as to how his side have work to do against a basic team who themselves may wonder how they managed to emerge from the tie with a win.
Two of the Hoops’ summer signings, Virgil van Dijk and Steven Mouyokolo, made their European debuts and started in central defence together for the first time as regular stopper Efe Ambrose dropped to the bench.
Mikael Lustig replaced Adam Matthews at full back, the Wales defender recovering from a hamstring injury but only finding a place as substitute as Forrest came in for Beram Kayal.
Shakhter, the first Kazakh side to reach the play-off round of the competition, were playing 114 miles away from home in the 30,000-capacity national stadium, which was close to full with a couple of dozen Hoops fans in one corner behind a goal.
Celtic dominated the early stages on the artificial surface and indeed could have been two ahead before they fell behind.
The home side escaped in the fourth minute after Shakhtar keeper Aleksandr Mokin fumbled a Charlie Mulgrew corner and Van Dijk and Commons tried to get the ball in but it was scrambled away for another corner.
When Commons flighted the ball into the box from the other side, the Dutch defender powered a header in which was parried by Mokin and the Kazakh champions somehow survived again.
The home side were probably as surprised as anyone when they forced their way into the lead with what was a basic goal.